Carousing in Moalboal!

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Millions of sardines, the immensity is a phenomenon!

It was a quick decision to revisit one of my favorite destination in Cebu province, initially we were aiming for an offbeat town in Southern Leyte but unfortunately, the lone local dive shop was fully booked for that weekend. We made quick arrangements on our favorite hostel and dive shop in Moalboal but then again, all were fully booked. We ignored the hindrances though, coming to this favorite town southwest of Cebu was a joy. My last visit was yet in June 2014!

The last minute changes made me scrambling from a quiet lunch with friends, it was already past 2pm and everything else went as a whirlwind – tickets, packing, gears assemble, so on.  By 8pm, I was already on board the boat sailing for the night to Cebu.

Travelers always trust things will work out well as you arrived the destination, and it sure did. As long as you are open-minded and make most of what is available at hand. One last bahay-kubo was the lodge  for the night and our friend DM at Cebu Dive Center offered us one dive in their house reef for the coveted sardines run, it was good that one dive guide was available for that afternoon. The arrangement worked well and it gave us time to see other sites.  🙂

White Beach (Bas Daku)

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Got away from the crowd to get unobstructed view of the sunset!

For the many times I went to Moalboal, I never got the chance to visit the area and Torsten (of Moalboal Backpackers Lodge) described it as a wonderful spot to relax and watch sunset. It was low-tide when we got there, the shores was wide and long enough for the walk but unfortunately it was too crowded. So, we had the walk, sat at the beach, watch people, watch the sunset and in the end, had a dip and quick swim in its warm waters!  🙂

Aguinid Falls

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Therapeutic morning dip at the falls basin!

The town of Samboan is 60 kilometers away from the lodge and almost two hours bus ride, so we woke up early for the trip south. Indeed, the early bird catches the best view! There was no crowd, no noise just the sound of the gushing waters! Yes, the short walk and climbing the four levels was a sure test of agility and strength. I love the early trek and swim at its basin with the majestic falls behind us. It was a wet morning adventure!  🙂

Sardines Run

 

 

DM Cameron (of Cebu Dive Center) was just good-hearted to arrange with another diver for our afternoon dives, one dive was truly not enough for me but it was better than none considering the long trip. The afternoon waters was turbulent as it was moving for the high tides, it was hard to keep steady as we wade for our entry.  At 15 meters though, we had a grand show of million sardines. It clouded above us, as we swam coyly in the warm waters – so beautiful and surreal! It was amazing, a nature’s wonder that can not be explained.  For a time the swarm was in the deep in Pescador Island, but now it’s in the shallows right next the shores. Maybe, the fishes knew that they can survive well away from the predators. Yes, the spot is a protected area and fishing them is illegal! I knew I will get back in Moalboal for the sardines again and again.

The brief get-away was a carouse but never in a noisy and lively way as in a party, but it’s about enjoying nature’s gifts in it’s most simple, relaxed, spontaneous and unaffected way. The wonderful dive was just I needed during the Moalboal visit. After we bade goodbye to our host, we left for the city thankful that our traspo connections went fluidly.

It was late when we arrived downtown Cebu, rushing but still had enough time for a relaxing dinner at La Maison Rose.  C’est la vie!  🙂

NB. All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy.

 

Finding Solace in Samal Island!

It was a random decision to book dives in Samal to quick start 2018 dive trips, it was like a homecoming after few years of skipping the island. And it was heartwarming that DM Maeng of ScubAqua (formerly Davao Scuba Dive Center) is still there to cater us.  It felt nostalgic recalling memories in my prior years’ dives with them, unfortunately new dive guides were engaged for that weekend.  That same warmth and kindness that I cherished before comforted me during the trip.

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Colorful corals, juveniles swimming before us – perfectly calming!

The cheery weather greeted us for our cruise to the island from Sta. Ana port, the boat was full-packed with guests – only few were divers though, most were aiming for the beach either to just swim or snorkel.  We were assigned to DM Toto for the day together with a newbie American diver, it was reassuring since we were not crowded and we could have more time to slow down and be mindful as we went through the reefs.

Our first descent was in Coral Gardens, we sank unto a sandy slope filled with corals decorated with wide gorgonians but we stumbled upon few crown of thorns star (COTS), I frowned watching them as the waters shall get warmer during summer, in no time they could multiply and eventually will devour the corals.  I glance over a branching coral that was turning whitish – I was wondering if it was bleaching! A sea cucumber had a minute emperor shrimp on its back probably feeding from parasites, some sea star, worms, clownfish over anemones, and a variety of juveniles spreading above us as we went around. Then a blue ribbon eel appeared from its burrow gloriously stood its ground as I took some snapshots – always fascinating as it darted but never leaving its hole!  Then we lingered over the colorful coral field just feeling the warm waters hopping over the reef hunting for critters, until we had our safety stop as we got under our boat for our ascent.  I still had 100 bars after 58 minutes lingering over the gardens!

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Emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber back!

We cruise a bit to Babu Santa beach for our safety stop, there were few changes since our last visit but thankfully it is till devoid of concrete and permanent structures, it has still its wide beach with few huts for guests, with its blue and clear waters!

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COTS at rest, soon to devour the corals nearby!

We cruise once more heading for Talikud Island for our last descent at Mansud Wall, it was past 4pm already and thankfully the viz was clear and there was no current.  We descend with our left shoulder towards the wall, the reef is filled with soft and hard corals, wide sea fans and obviously bursting with marine life. There were nudis, COTS (!) again, lots of juveniles – anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasse, fusiliers and lot more.  They spread before and above us as, watching them peacefully swimming was a great consolation – there was pure silence.  We had gathered trashes as we went around, and we lingered again over coral field for our safety stop until we ascend after 54 minutes. We cruised back to Sta. Ana wharf feeling refreshed after the dives!  🙂

This little piece of paradise has been renamed to Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) but for me, it is still Samal Island, in the early days popularized by Pearl Farm but now there are a number of resorts all around this small city. It has remained bucolic and unassuming yet booming and blooming for all of us to revisit, explore and enjoy!

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A family of anemone fish!

Travel Notes

  • In the early days of this intoxication, Samal waters was a favorite and has been our playground. My dive buddy earned his open water certification through Davao Scuba Dive Center.
  • Davao City, my entry point to Samal island is 8-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro
  • ScubAqua is probably the cheapest with PhP 1500.00 rate for 2 dives inclusive of equipment, boat and dive guide. The shop is conveniently located at Sta. Ana wharf.
  • Staying in Davao City rather than in the resorts in IGACOS is more economical, also the city has much to offer to your liking.

Charming Camiguin

Indeed, there are 101 ways of enjoying the wonders of Camiguin Island and maybe it would be too archaic to say I am one of many who are captivated by its enduring charms. I will never get tired of coming over and over again, last year I hopped to the island three times each with different agenda to relish once more its grandeur on its surface and beyond.

Mountains and Falls

During one long weekend in summer I went with workmates to fulfill my long-time wish to climb Mt. Hibok-hibok, the trek was unforgiving but I made it traversing to Ardent Hotsprings. It was just marvelous getting up close with this majestic & dangerous mountain which have devastated the island decades ago. My legs went wobbly when I got back in the camp but happy for it was a wish come true!

In June during an official travel, after having a road tour with staff and workmates, I had a quick detour for a weekend dive with my dive buddy. It was rediscovering the island province, surface & beyond.  And yes, after the dives in Mantigue Island we went up the mountains for the trek to Binangawan Falls in Sagay.  We went for the unforgiving trails but the feeling was great when we got there, it was deserted compared to Katibawasan & Tuasan Falls! The trek was engaging, one mistake and you fell into the ravine.  The waters was too cold, just right to cool down after the long and challenging walk and it was all ours!  🙂

Island and Depths

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Mantigue Island, a gem in the Bohol Sea!

I went back to the island for my year-end dive and the weather favoured us, while other regions was on a storm it was like summer in Northern Mindanao.  We aimed for Mantigue Island, we just couldn’t get enough of the school of giant trevally and huge turtles. I never get tired of coming back again and again, the point is – we only spent brief moment underwater which is usually an hour at a time, and the probability that we will see everything in that moment is nonsensical. Exactly, different sightings in every descent. Yet if I’m in Mantigue waters, I waited for the turtles and the large herd of jackfish or trevallies. I wished to be in the midst of these numerous silvery fish with big eyes and swim with them or be engulfed in their swirling motion completely at peace.

Once again we encountered my favourite species – the turtles, giant trevallies, garden eels, stonefish, giant grouper (like a goliath!), sea snake, moray eel, few nudis and unexpectedly – a herd of barracudas! We bumped with the trevallies at least three times as we went around. We stumbled upon a reef decorated with feather stars, soft and hard corals and hydroids formed like a heart – amazing discovery! 🙂 Angel tugged me and pointed it out while floating weightlessly.  My two dives on that Saturday have refreshed me undoubtedly after just recovered from feeling ill.

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An amazing find!  🙂

It was drizzling when we head for the white sandbar in Yumbing early the next morning, a storm darkened the skies followed by rains, but the sun peeped after awhile and suddenly brightened up the horizons.  It’s been long since I last set foot in the sandbar, then a rainbow appeared and it reminded me of a promise from the heavens, a magic to behold sending good cheers!

Camiguin always fascinates me in every way, the island is purely magical – surface and beyond.

NB. The split photo of Mantigue Island is courtesy of my dive buddy.

Craving for Cabilao Island!

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Isn’t this blenny adorable?

Still our penchant for seeking less known sites is limitless. As we all knew, the island province of Bohol is a gem, it is undoubtedly replete with many wonders.  Last year, we felt so blessed after diving in the town of Anda – it was incredibly rich we regret discovering it just lately.  So, we were off again to the province and endured multiple mode of transport to reach the town of Loon, finally cruising to this tiny unassuming island one weekend in September. It was a plane, ferry, bus and tiny boat ride all to Cabilao Island.  The island has been in my list years back but the arduous trip that won’t surely fit on a weekend deterred the schedule.  Recently, Angel discovered reaching the other side of Bohol via Tubigon, definitely shorter and cheaper than via Tagbilaran! So, as soon as I got back from the July rendezvous, I booked my Cebu tickets for this trip.

All in a Rush

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Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained, homey & environment friendly haven. Add diving, and that’s all too perfect for me!

Another hectic weekend awaits us, so things were all in a rush but thanks God all our transport connections went fluidly as planned.  We were catching our breath as we do not want to be late, Europeans are time conscious and it is discourteous to keep others waiting.  We arrived and welcomed warmly at Polaris Dive Resort just in the nick of time, enough to have a quick but relaxing breakfast and gather ourselves for the day’s dives. DM Jun assured us not to rush, we were informed that three couples (all Deutsch) were booked for the day obviously we were arranged to join them.

Pulo Hospitality

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Hey, can you find the harlequin shrimp?  🙂

The location and amenities of the resort was impressive and exactly what one needs for an escape, add diving and that’s perfect haven for me. J We geared up after the preliminaries and piled all eight divers in the boat for our first descent at the Lighthouse, which was a short 5-minute ride south of resort shores. We dropped unto a sandy slope filled with soft corals down to a wall, we chance upon a colony of garden eels which quickly hid in their burrows when we got near.  I’m always fascinated with them, and again I paused and waited they would come out again, they did slowly inch by inch!  We stumbled on macros – few nudis, glass shrimp and a crab mimicking on soft coral. Every turn we peek on corals for critters. The highlights for me was the yellow

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Face to face with a yellow frogfish!

frogfish perched on a large plank of yellow rubber coral surrounded by crinoids, adapting its yellow surroundings. I waited it would yawn, but it only opened its mouth a bit perhaps catching some air, at least it was not upset with our intrusion in its abode. It was a good subject directly facing us, so the Deutsch divers feasted for photos! We explored more – the perennial clown fish forever teasing over anemones, ghost pipefish like dead leaves (!), stonefish and nudis again.  Then over a sandy part, our DM pointed out a couple of black/white organism clinging on rubber coral, poking a bit it went white all over – it turns out to be an egg cowrie!  We linger for our safety stop over a sandy slope covered with corals and sea grasses and found last minute a stonefish, hairy crab on bubble coral and a herd of striped eel fish. We separated from the group and ascend by ourselves in the shallows towards the shore, after 90 minutes.  I still have 60 bars with 29.7 meters as our deepest.  So far, this was my longest bottom time!

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Macros are everywhere, a crab was secretly hiding among this colorful soft coral!

Our surface interval was spent for our light but relaxing lunch of penne pesto pasta and korbis soup, we had enough time too for some breather in our cottage. The quiet surroundings under the swaying coconuts and trees with blooming hibiscus would surely lull you to sleep. J  I have to drag myself from the rattan duyan for our next dive at 2pm.

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A scorpion fish!

The afternoon descent is at The Chapel, which is nearby too parallel the resort shores.  It is located near a small chapel which according to DM Jun where fishers drop-by before setting off to fish.  Our DM promised a diverse marine life in this lowly site.  Indeed, we dropped off on a colourful reef where in few minutes we found the electric clams, they lurk on overhangs or crevices and emit somewhat vibrating lights from their opening.  Angel pointed out to me a shy moray with its head barely out from its hole, it didn’t like our intrusion.  L Then a harlequin shrimp barely noticeable clinging on soft flowery coral, glass shrimps on anemone, another minute shrimp on flat hardened surface over anemones, few nudis – critters were everywhere! We went on a swim-through with our DM carefully navigating getting a streamlined test, it was perfectly smooth! A lone silver barracuda was teasing us, wondering where its companions are.  Damsels, groupers, triggers, sand perch, wrasses, chromis, fusiliers, butterfly fish, angels, anthias and more. There was this adorable blenny peeking from its abode as if giving us a hello, its curiosity was endearing. We were having our wrap-up as we get off for our safety stop, when a large herd of striped barracudas appeared in view.  We swam quick before we lost them, it was incredible that at five meters we got a full view of the herd! J I still have 80 bars when we ascend after 73 minutes.  It was wonderful, with lot of sightings and diverse environment we were more than an hour underwater for both dives.  My heart was filled with gratefulness for all the discoveries.

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Parading in the coral fields!

We pass-off for night dives and choose to unwind at the patio savoring the twilight glow and eventually had a quiet alfresco dinner listening to the waves behind us. The day was just full deserving a good night’s rest.

Final Touch

Leaving the island wasn’t complete without attending an early mass at the Centro, exploring the shoreline towards the Lighthouse and Punta Baluarte Eco-Museum. It offers a lovely view of the sea minus the crowd and modern development, just sheer island charm and unspoiled serene setting.

Hidden, idyllic and purely designed for unwinding,  another unmatched destination just waiting to be explored and enjoyed is Cabilao Island. Actually,  it’s more than just a destination, it’s an experience!

Travel Notes:

  1. My itinerary for this trip
  • Last night flight from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu, 740pm – 50 minutes
  • First trip ferry to Tubigon, 445am – 2 hours
  • Van ride to Mocpoc, Loon – 1 hour
  • Habal ride to Pier – 15 minutes
  • Boat ride to Talisay, Cabilao pier – 10 minutes
  • Habal ride to Polaris Dive Resort – 10 minutes
  • Return trip has same route leaving the island early, to catch the last flight to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu
  1. With the above itinerary, there is a need to stay overnight in metro Cebu
  2. Ferries for Cebu-Tubigon route & vice versa has several trips daily, in Cebu they sail from Pier Uno
  3. Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained homey environment friendly resort which houses a 5-star PADI dive shop, lies in the western side obviously offering daily sunsets
  4. The tiny triangular island of Cabilao off Loon town is literally surrounded with at least 14 dive sites
  5. “Pulo” is a Cebuano term for island

 

Seeking Sipalay

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Colorful life in a different dimension!

Coming to the southern part of Negros Occidental has been in our agenda but its time-consuming trip via Cebu & Dumaguete kept me stalling the plan, it needed a much longer weekend and at least three days leave considering no-fly intervals after dives. Fortunately, direct flights to Bacolod from Cagayan de Oro (via Cebu Pacific) suddenly opened last summer, such advantage that could mean shorter travel time! Without second thought, I booked my flights over the third weekend of July for that long – awaited dive trip, I could hardly wait.  My dive buddy simply can’t resist not to join!

Once I landed in Bacolod, I had so much to discover and fill my cravings – especially that Bascon Café, Pendy’s & Tom Tom’s Cafe was just a stone’s throw from my hostel. My sweet palate succumbed to half-moons and napoleones – only the best at Pendy’s and get much filled with the generous eggs benedict at Bascon’s! J Such a treat!  The following morning I heard an early mass at the old San Sebastian Cathedral.

Artistic Diving

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Branching table corals this wide is common!

The town of Sipalay is more than 130 kilometers south of Bacolod, the aircon bus that I took crawled from town to town until we arrived after 6 hours, it was uneventful though the trip gave me a glimpse of the rural setting of the province.  The only production area I remembered was sugar cane fields but none for the staples.  I finally arrived at Punta Ballo after a trike ride, my host who waited & constantly sent me SMS while on the road, perfectly gave me a warm welcome. Artistic Diving Resort sat on a quiet spot in Campomanes Bay that has exclusive beach, most importantly it houses a 5-star PADI dive shop. I waited for that golden sunset but it didn’t show up, the skies were overcast that afternoon.

Angel caught up with me early the next morning giving him enough time for a quick nap to freshen up after the long ride from Bacolod, we were expected at 9am at the dive shop.

Eva’s Point and Toscana

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Giant clams in hiding!

We told DM Rogee that we are hoping to explore the wreck in the bay but it was raining in the past days so the viz wasn’t good enough. So, for our first descent he suggested for Eva’s Point which is located at the edge of Campomanes Bay. We geared up amid the drizzle hoping it won’t rain hard, with one Deutsch diver joining us.  The boat sailed shortly northward and dropped anchors twenty minutes later, the waves rocking us bit. We descend to a reef with scattered hard corals, a lobster hiding in a crevice greeted us

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Lacy nudi, Have you seen this before?

with its waving antlers, there were at least three I noticed. There were giant clams among the corals, nudis, wide table corals, crinoids, sea fans and sponges.  I lingered over soft corals with glass shrimps perhaps feeding on parasites, then a herd of shrimpfish with their synchronized swimming show.  There’s one nudi that caught my attention, a fat white bodice with black lacy pattern all over, it was something new to me. There were snappers, batfish, wrasse, triggerfish, trumpetfish, damsels, pipefish and more.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop, just going around the colorful coral field feeling its vastness.  Just as we passed over a sandy slope, our DM signaled for something floating, indeed it was the ghost pipefish appearing like brown dried leaf, it was alone. But a couple appeared also, I guess the area is a playground of the specie.  We lingered more and found Christmas tree worms and more clams and just before we surfaced sighted a crown of thorns.  It turned out that the visibility was good more than we expected.  I still had 100 bars when we ascend after 70 minutes!

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Turtles are simply adorable!

Our surface interval was unhurried and relaxing, spent accordingly for our late lunch and rest, and got back at the dive shop at 2pm.  We geared up once more aiming for Toscana which is located closer to the resort, another Deutsch diver joined us in the afternoon dive.

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Have you seen a ghost underwater?

It was just a short boat ride but the waters more rough, in our short briefing we join with DM Rogee while the Deutsch couple with the dive guide, we descend immediately after we rolled back unto a slope with vibrant corals.  We found a turtle resting on the corals, so friendly it didn’t swim away when we got near and so we had ample time just watching it and taking more photos!  There was these two jackfish which curiously followed us perhaps wondering what critters we are. J We found more clams, hydroids and sponges and variety of soft corals.  We went through a canal-like channel looking for critters but my attention was caught up making sure of a smooth passage never disturbing the spot. Nudis, sea cucumbers, anemones and sea whips also adorn the reef and it is as diverse with Eva’s Point.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop again absorbed with the colourful domain.  I still had 120 bars when we ascend after 54 minutes.

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An early Christmas greeting! 🙂

Both of the sites had remarkable coral reefs and diverse marine life, there are at least more than ten sites in Campomanes Bay excluding the two wrecks. Now, there’s very good reason to be back in Punta Ballo for more discoveries.  DM Rogee reminded us that the best time to visit for dives in the area is between November to May.

I guess not only for Punta Ballo, but Sipalay as a whole as we barely explored the city.  Indeed, coming for good reasons and waiting for the right time is a sound guiding principle in finding a destination. Yet, that golden sunset in Sugar Beach is tickling my curiosity.  I must be back in the city, it’s a promise!

Heights and Depths!

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Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Adventures for the intrepid can be as varied as far one can go, many travelers have become so audacious and ambitious as if motivated in conquering one goal after another.

After years of diving and continually aiming for off beaten sites, I realized there are still a lot of places around the country that needs to be explored.  I have learned so much from my travels and in many ways have gained new insights especially destinations that are closest to nature.  The rural scenery is almost and always a plethora of learning and new understanding of our culture, the environment and wide issues of protection and preservation.

There are few places that are close to my heart, destinations that are perhaps distant and advance arrangements are necessary, yet the urge to keep coming back was hard to resist.  Much that I love the depths, I am always fascinated by heights.  So that, a combination of both in a trip, is a real indulgence, actually a luxury. Climbing a peak or searching the depths is a real show of grandeur in all scheme of things!

Coron – Climb Mt. Tapyas and dive in Coron Bay

One of my favorite dive destination is Coron due its collection of World War II wrecks, the underwater museum have tickled my curiosity and I have tons of write-up about the mysterious wrecks. I was always blown away every time we penetrated the old ships, these silent monsters abandoned in the depths. My visits to Coron though, is not complete without climbing Mt. Tapyas to catch glimpse of my beautiful sunset. I guess sunsets are more spectacular to watch from a mountain top.  I would linger just watching, killing my time looking the horizons getting a good view of the changing hues.  Until the golden sun would finally ebbed down and the white cross would light up.

Tawi-Tawi – Climb Bud Bongao and dive in Bongao waters

This southern most cluster of islands in the country is not a touristy one, in fact some if not most would think twice before coming to Tawi-tawi.  Coming here was one of my most memorable trip, the discoveries were too precious to ignore.  We visited here during Ramadan and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the market was oozing with people and there was great array of food!  The locals were friendly and helpful, the town is naturally peaceful.

We climb Bud Bongao the day we arrived, we trek and were welcomed by the macaque monkeys with our banana offerings. Bud is the highest point of the province, the view was just unmistakably breath taking!  The three dives the next day was a great opportunity to explore the rich surrounding waters of the islands.  Well, the currents made it challenging! The heights and depths combination was just marvelous!

Southern Cebu – Trek Osmeña Peak, traverse to Kawasan Falls and dive in Moalboal

Well, this is actually a combination of three! The southern towns in Cebu have its own charms, so that in these three towns you have equally remarkable adventures.  Drive to Mantalungon in Dalaguete, trek to Osmeña Peak and be amazed with those peaks shaped like peanut kisses! Trek down the fourteen kilometers trail and traverse to Badian right in Kawasan Falls, rafting and taking a dip in its aquamarine waters is truly refreshing!  Stay in the next town of Moalboal and dive in its waters replete with diverse marine life. The awesome sardine’s run is too hard to resist, I came here again and again because of it.  Pescador Island is also a renowned site, the sightings here are too good to be true, mind blowing as they say!

Camiguin Island – Trek Mt. Hibokhibok, traverse to Ardent Hot Springs and dive in its waters

There a lot of reasons to be back here again and again, this island is also my favorite. It’s practically dense with nature wonders. Volcanoes, falls, hot and cold springs, islets, rich marine life and more!  Climb Mt. Hibok-Hibok, this active volcano is safe for trekking and it can be done in a day. The view in the peak is undoubtedly breath taking, but it was foggy when we reached the top. We were surrounded with white clouds, the trail was challenging at different levels.  It has a total of fourteen kilometers from Yumbing and traverse to Ardent, right in the hot spring pools!  A dip is undoubtedly a good relaxant after the arduous trek.

The island is perfect for diving – from marine sanctuaries, coastal reefs to sunken cemetery!  There’s a lot of choices and this island province is literally surrounded with dive sites in its coastal waters.  Mantigue Island is a must, so with sunken cemetery, Old Vulcan, white island and many more. All of the sites are practically filled with diverse marine life.

These are just few, I know there are a lot of destinations around the country with this ridge to reef combinations. New learning, precious discoveries and the realization that every place has its own share of wonders and the God of order have made everything in nature in accord with all scheme of things.

Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Balingoan: Underwater Paradise

By Angel C. Juarez
A Post written in Health & Home, August 2016 issue

In my continuous chase for offbeat dive sites in the country, I got a chance to explore the underwater treasures in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Heading to Barangay Mantangale with my perennial dive buddy Ate Claudia from Cagayan de Oro City one day I was enthralled with the unspoiled beauty under the waters of this laid back municipality.  Indeed, the place is one of the most underrated dive spots in the country.  While most tourists frequent Balingoan only as a jump-off point to Camiguin Island, for some like us, it is already a destination.  It is a small piece of underwater paradise that will definitely keep us coming back again and again.

Finding Balingoan

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Mantangale and Sipaka as seen from Balingoan Port

Balingoan is two hours north of Cagayan de Oro City, unknown to many, the waters around this small town that stretch toward Camiguin bustle with vivid underwater life.  Without a doubt, Balingoan is one of my favorite place in the Philippines for scuba diving for two reasons: its rich marine life and the absence of tourist traffic that  popular dive sites get.  This means Balingoan is generally unspoiled and unexploited!

Sipaka Point

One of Balingoan’s known diving spots is Sipaka Point.  Its sloping white and sandy bed is an ideal site for students and divers of all levels.  It is a perfect site for macro photography as well.  Ten meters down Sipaka Point is beautiful reef adorned with colorful corals and crinoids, and home to small tropical fishes and marine creatures.  Fishes like anthias, wrasses, angelfish, pufferfish, anemonefish, lionfish, groupers, and eels abound in the reef.  So do lobsters, cuttlefish, glass and harlequin shrimps, and different species of nudibranches.

Talisayan Shoal

Not far from Sipaka Point is Talisayan Shoal, a ten minute boat ride from the coast of Mantangale and a known spot for the colorful mandarin fish.  It was already sunset when we descended down into the vast coral area of Talisayan Shoal. Armed with underwater torches, we maneuvered around the area on search for the rare mandarin fish.  We saw the usual tropical reef fishes and other macro species such as shrimps and crabs, but not the rare mandarin fish.  When my torch ran out of battery, we ascend for our safety stop.  Darkness had already enveloped the surroundings as we sailed back to the shores.  When I look into the water, I saw glowing bioluminous organisms as they were washed away by the boat.  Indeed, the sea is a vast mystery and humans will never completely understand the life beneath.

Banaug Shoal

Three years after our first dive affair with Balingoan. We returned to its depths to experience and explore more of its treasures.  It was Banaug Shoal this time.  It wasn’t my first time to dive here but I was excited as it were my first.  We left for Banaug Shoal by speed boat.  This shoal is the house reef of Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), which for me is one of the best house reefs I have ever dived into.  The diversity of marine life in this dense space is unbelievable and the explosion of underwater colors never ceases to amaze me.  Snappers, butterflyfish, moorish idols, boxfish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, trigger fish and a lot more species graced our dives as well as sea slugs and other macro species.  They all made the small reef, carpeted with soft and hard corals, their home.

Lapinig Island

After our surface interval, we sailed from Mantangale to Lapinig Island, the islet in front of Balingoan Port.  It looks dull and boring on the surface, but what’s underwater is a different story.  It’s an action- packed world down there!  Not minding the mild current, we gradually descend on a sandy slope hoping to see manta rays.  There are reported sightings of manta rays in the site although not regular.  It wasn’t our lucky day though, as no manta ray showed up.  But the usual reef and macro species such as striped fish, trumpet fish, nudis, bristle worms, and others that I don’t know by name, made the dive an awesome one.  Soft and hard corals, sea fans, feather stars and sponges also added color to the scenery.  Sadly, some trashes scattered around the place due to its proximity to the port and residential area.  We ended up fishing out trashes, turning our dive into a clean-up drive!

Looking forward to coming Back

My Balingoan dives are truly memorable and I look forward to more underwater explorations and discoveries in the town.  The sea is a deep stash of treasures and surprises that I won’t get tired of exploring.  I can’t wait for another rendezvous with underwater creatures of Balingoan in the years to come.

Disclosures:
Angel C. Juarez of http://www.lakwatsero.com has been my dive buddy since few years back. I met him nine years ago during a Coron trip, four months later he became a certified diver. We have a lot of common favorite dive destinations and Mantangale is just one of them. Our last dive in the area was just this February 2017.